US-Space Agency NASA in another historic feat successfully slammed a target asteroid in its attempt at planetary defense by destroying space rock that poses a threat of collision. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft designed to prevent a potential catastrophic meteorite collision with Earth slammed into Dimorphos at a hypersonic speed on Monday, the space agency informed.
What is DART mission and when was it launched
The collision occurred 10 months after DART was launched. A space agency’s first attempt at altering the motion and path of space rock was webcast from the mission operations center outside Washington D.C. High-resolution cameras that followed the DART spacecraft sent back images of the cu0shaped impactor as big as a vending vehicle with solar arrays collided into the asteroid as huge as a football stadium at 7:14 p.m. EDT (2314 GMT) some 6.8 million miles (11 million km) from Earth.
The mission built at a cost of approximately $330 million was meant to know if a man-made spacecraft can change the trajectory of an asteroid through sheer kinetic force and keep it away from Earth or avoid a near collision.
Watch DART crashing into Dimorphos here
Although NASA successfully conducted a test of its spacecraft designed to hit an asteroid, the results of the mission will not be known until next month when observations from the ground-based telescopes, the Hubble and Webb space telescopes arrive. The space agency hailed the success of the experiment, noting that the spacecraft achieved its objective.
“NASA works for the benefit of humanity, so for us, it’s the ultimate fulfillment of our mission to do something like this – a technology demonstration that, who knows, someday could save our home,” NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, a retired astronaut, said minutes after the impact.
The live monitoring of the mission was carried out from the mission’s operations center in Laurel, Maryland.
The control room erupted in cheers as the images from the spacecraft’s onboard camera showed the asteroid, which was named Dimorphos. Shortly after the signal was lost, the live streaming of NASA’s website showed that the spacecraft had crashed into the space rock.
The target of the mission was an asteroid that was about 560 feet in diameter and that orbits a parent asteroid five times larger called Didymos as part of a binary pair with the same name, the Greek word for twin.
Why Dimorphos for test mission?
The size of Dimorphos and the smaller space rock known as Didymos make them incredibly small compared to the asteroid Chicxulub that wiped out over 75% of Earth’s animal and plant species including dinosaurs about 66 million years ago.
Neither Dimorphos nor Didymos can present any actual threat to Earth or the DARA experiment in near future but the relative proximity of the two space rocks to Earth and their dual configuration made them ideal targets for the mission.
What happened in the outer space
The spacecraft accelerated toward Dimorphos at a speed of about 15,000 miles per hour. It was designed to create a force that could shift its orbital path toward the parent asteroid.
According to mission scientists, the spacecraft was destroyed in the impact. It also left a small crater on the surface of the asteroid.
Data collected during the six-day period of observation of Dimorphos in July were used to calculate its orbital period and starting location. These data will be analyzed to see if the space rock moved after the impact.
NASA’s other space mission about asteroids
The DART mission is NASA’s latest mission dedicated to exploring and interacting with asteroids, which are remnants of the solar system’s formation of 4.5 billion years ago.
In addition to the planetary defense mission, NASA also launched a mission to study Trojan asteroid clusters. The agency also sent the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to collect samples from the asteroid Bennu in October 2020.
The Dimorphos moonlet is one of the thousands of near-Earth objects that NASA has identified. Although none of these space rocks pose an immediate threat to Earth, they still remain out there.